5 Symptoms of a Rack and Pinion Leak (and Common Causes)

The steering rack and pinion are the components found in virtually all power steering systems of vehicles. They are a dual gear set which is ultimately responsible for letting the driver turn the wheels of their vehicle.

In other words, the steering wheel’s rotational motion gets converted into the linear motion that is needed for the wheels to turn. Naturally, if the steering rack and pinion were to leak power steering fluid due to damage or wear, then you would have a lot of problems steering your vehicle.

Top 5 Symptoms of a Rack and Pinion Leak

Below are the top 5 signs that will indicate a leak in the steering rack and pinion.

1) Steering Wheel Hard to Turn

steering wheel sideways

If you turn the steering wheel and it feels hard to turn or too tight, then you likely have a leak or some other problem with your steering rack and pinion.

The transmission needs an adequate supply of fluid so that enough hydraulic pressure is generated for you to easily turn the steering wheel. With a low amount of power steering fluid, there will be less hydraulic pressure. This means it will be harder to turn the wheel.

2) Red or Pink Fluid

oil leak

Vehicles have lots of different colored fluids in them including oil, transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. If you see fluid leaking from your vehicle, you may not be sure where it is coming from.

Just note that power steering fluid that leaks will be a red color or pink color. This should be followed by a burning smell which you will learn about in the next one on the list.

3) Burning Smell

burning smell

If you have ever smelt burnt oil then you will understand what this odor smells like. The cabin of your vehicle will be consumed with a burning smell when you have leaky power steering fluid.

This is due to there not being enough fluid in the transmission for the hydraulics to function properly.

4) Grinding Noise

noise while driving

When there is leaky power steering fluid, a grinding noise will be heard each time you turn the steering wheel. This is due to the gearbox not being lubricated properly. All that metal touching other metal creates nothing but grinding noises.

5) Steering Wheel Does Not Center

steering wheel off center

The steering wheel will normally return to a centered position when the steering rack and pinion are functioning normally. But if it does not return to a center position, then it could be due to a leak in the steering rack and pinion.

Top 3 Causes of a Rack and Pinion Leak

To understand why a leak would form on the steering rack and pinion, below are three of the most common causes.

1) Loose Connection

If the steering rack and pinion are too loose and not properly fitted, the power steering fluid will be able to seep through and leak out. Make sure these components and all other components of the power steering system are firmly fitted.

2) Bad Gasket

A worn out or damaged gasket in the steering rack and pinion will cause a power steering fluid leak. Simply replace the failed gasket with a new one before the problem gets worse.

A new gasket should not be too expensive but you’ll likely want to stick with an OEM replacement part for best results.

3) Bad Seals

The steering rack has seals on the end of it which prevent power steering fluid from getting through. But if you have worn out or damaged seals, then the fluid may be able to get through.

The longer you wait to address the problem, the worse the hole in them is going to get. The cheapest solution will be to repair the seals which is not always doable.

Otherwise, you will need to replace the whole steering rack and pinion because it is not possible to just replace the seals separately. They are integrated into the components.


3 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Rack and Pinion Leak (and Common Causes)”

  1. I have a 2007 sport Trac with an ” off balance” noise going down road. Noise most noticable when turning any type of left directions. Basically non existent when steering right. Checked brakes, bearings, all the logical possiblites. No steering vibration, stops when applying brakes. Confused. Any ideas? Thanks

    • My first thought was a bad wheel bearing, especially if the off balance noise is accompanied with any sort of whirring or grinding sounds indicative of worn bearings. Give each wheel a vigorous shake (both top to bottom and left to right) to see if there’s any play in the wheel bearings or suspension components.

      Since you said you checked those, I’d have the tire balance checked just to be sure it’s not something simple. Note the tire wear pattern while the wheels are off, as uneven tire wear may give you a clue as to what the root cause is.

      Maybe take another look at the brakes to make sure the rotors aren’t warped, the pads have even wear, and the surface between the rotor and hub is clean.

  2. Had my steering column and rack and pinion repaired by professional factory service provider at a routine mileage checkup and oil change. 2015 Santa Fe Sport in excellent condition-no accidents, with less than 24,000 miles-factory warranty up in may 2020. Still hear a clicking noise when turning steering wheel; steering wheel appears off center- so cannot tell if tires are straight. Also caution light showing my wheels are not straight when i go to move it from a parking space or aligned in my garage space. ABS or traction control caution lights in addition to horrible noise coming from wheels when car is driven over even a mild speed bump , over a small hole or dip in road pavement or slight rain water puddle at a normal traffic stop light. I now hear a noticeable rubbing noise in my wheels like my brake pads need to be replaced. Are any of these issues connected?


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